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Death In A Valley Town, Part 4 – The Psychology of Forgiveness

He let the vision go, feeling a moment of dizziness as he did so. He stood stock still until the dizziness passed and the world resolved before him.

Mayon volcano

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

Previous Chapters of Death in a Valley Town1. Moving Day2. The Black Jesus. 3. A Fighter and a Thief.

Jinx

Moroccan teapotThe hot tea stung Yahya’s bruised mouth and swollen lip, but he did his best to drink as he sat in Imam Saleh’s living room, sipping from a small ornate glass, and eating a bit of baklawa. It had been two days since his release from the hospital. The Imam tried to refill his glass from an old-fashioned looking Moroccan teapot, but Yahya waved him off.

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He’d spent the previous day recuperating in bed. Yusra had tried again to talk to him about their father, but he’d told her he was too tired. Tired and unwired. This morning he left while the sky was still dark and the household was still asleep. He went to Masjid Madeenah in Fresno for Fajr prayer, and exchanged a few words with Imam Saleh, making an appointment to see him later that day.

He knew his wife would be angry that he had not spent more recovery time in bed. She’d taken time off work to help him recuperate. He was being ungrateful by going back to work so soon. But he needed to get out. Hit the road for a bit, open his window and let the crisp night air rush over his face. Work the city like a speed skater on ice. Downshift his mind and let his hands and feet take over. Or hand and foot, more like it, since his left leg and arm were still incapacitated.

So yeah, he’d done a handful of Uber rides in the morning. If anyone minded him driving one-handed, they did not complain. People going to work, college students going to school. He always crossed into neighboring Fresno to work, as it was a big city. At one point he arrived at a drugstore to pick up a woman named Caridad. Spanish for Charity, he knew. There was no one in the parking lot but a rail-thin, middle-aged white woman carrying a frayed duffel bag, and a young Latina hanging out near the bus stop, examining her phone. He rolled down his window, called out, “Caridad?”

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The middle aged woman took a step toward him.

Yahya frowned. “Are you Caridad?”

“Uh-huh.” The woman came around to the passenger side, opened the door and dropped in, her duffle bag resting on her lap. Yahya studied her. She didn’t seem to have a phone. Her blonde hair was disheveled, and she smelled bad. Her arms were as thin as curtain rods, and the skin on her face was pulled tight across her cheekbones. An old tattoo of a swastika defaced the side of her neck.

At the same time he noticed the young Latina approaching, looking at her phone then up at him quizzically. Hmm.

“You sure you’re Caridad?” he asked the middle aged woman.

“Uh-huh.”

“And you’re going to…” he checked the Uber app. “Hoover High School?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You’re a high school student?”

“Uh-huh.”

The young Latina was now a few steps away. Yahya nodded a greeting to her. “I’m guessing you’re Caridad?”

She nodded earnestly. “Yes.”

Yahya gave his would-be passenger a reproachful look. “You’re not Caridad. You have to get out.”

She glared at him. “I am so.”

Uber stickers“You’re not.” He looked at his phone. “I can see her picture right here.” That was a lie – Uber did not display photos of passengers – but this woman would not know that.

“You mean this picture?” The woman threw her hands up, opened her mouth wide and stuck out her tongue. Then she took her duffle and exited the car.

“Hey lady!” Yahya called the homeless woman back and handed her a twenty dollar bill, which was half of what he’d made thus far that morning, along with his business card, which provided his name, contact info and Uber referral code. Anytime someone signed up for Uber with his code, he got paid. Not that he imagined this woman would be signing up for Uber. “Get yourself something to eat,” he told her. “Some meat.” He wanted to add, “would be neat,” but restrained himself. People didn’t always appreciate his rhymes and alliteration. “My number is on there. If you’re ever hungry, call me and I’ll bring you some food.”

“Thank you,” the woman said solemnly, her demeanor becoming saner, as if the craziness was a tattered garment she could shuck off at will. “My real name is Jinx. But my really for reals name is Barbara.”

He did a few more rides after that, and was now here at the Imam’s stately, tree-shaded home near Fresno City College. The Imam sat before him, a tall man with midnight black skin and a trace of an African accent. Yahya had heard he was highly educated. He had also, from what people said, shaken the community up a bit. He’d founded his own masjid and stipulated that half of the board of directors must be women. Converts too were well represented. The mosque was open to walk-ins by non-Muslims any day of the week. And the Imam was not afraid to address controversial topics. He was a strong advocate for combatting violence against women, mobilizing the Muslim vote, and ending FGM. But this was Yahya’s first time meeting him one-on-one.

“My wife says I should sue the boy,” Yahya said after explaining the situation. “But it doesn’t feel right. Doesn’t the Quran say, ‘Repel [evil] by that which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.’”

The Imam nodded. “Are you hoping this young man will become a devoted friend?”
“Ehm,” Yahya stammered. “Not really. I just don’t believe in taking personal vengeance. Didn’t the Prophet forgive the woman who used to throw garbage in his path every day? When he went out one day and there was no garbage, he went to see her to check if she was alright.”

“That’s true.”

“And when he conquered Mecca and all the Meccans were afraid he would take revenge for their abusing him, he forgave them all.”

The Imam smiled. “That’s true, but you’re all over the map, akh Yahya.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are conflating incidents from the Meccan period with those from the Madinan period. That’s a mistake, especially from a psychological standpoint.”

“What do you mean psychological?”

“It’s very popular these days to speak of forgiveness. New Age spiritual thinkers and pop psychologists love to talk about the power of forgiveness, and how those who forgive live happier lives. There’s a brother who lives right here in Fresno who writes a blog called Islamic Sunrays. He penned an article titled, “When you forgive, you live.”

“Catchy.”

“And true, to a degree. The brother says that forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself, regardless of whether the perpetrator deserves it. But here’s the problem. When the perpetrator holds the power in the relationship, forgiving them is pointless and dangerous. It gives them permission to continue abusing. And with narcissists, forgiving them merely signals that what they did was not so bad. Look at it this way. Say a woman comes into my office. She’s being beaten by her husband on a regular basis. She looks like you.” The Imam gestured to Yahya’s body. “Bruised and bloody. She’s afraid her husband will kill her. Do you think it would be right to counsel her to forgive her husband and remain in the relationship?”

“No, of course not.”

“Right. The question of forgiveness must be tied to the power dynamic between oppressed and oppressor. On the other hand, if she were to escape her husband, divorce him and start a new life, there might come a time when she could forgive him. Not reunite with him – she might never speak to him again – but let go of her hurt and anger, for the sake of her own soul. That brother with the blog, he points out that holding onto resentment ties us to the abuser, but forgiving liberates us. He’s right. But security first, then forgiveness. Can we tell the Palestinians to forgive the occupiers who gun down their children, torture their fathers, and beat their women at checkpoints? Can we say, ‘Never mind, go about your business and pretend it isn’t happening, and we will do the same.’”

“Well, no.”

“That is the example of the Meccan period.”

“But,” Yahya objected, “the Prophet forgave his tormentors even then, like the old woman with the garbage.”

“She was no threat. When the Prophet went to see her she was bedridden. Forgiving her was an act of compassion. But when the family of Yasir was being tortured by Abu Jahl – the archenemy of Islam – in the desert, and the Prophet passed by them, did he tell them to forgive? No, he told them to be patient, and that their meeting place was in Paradise, because that was all he could do. And in the end, at the battle of Badr, when Abdullah ibn Masood – who was nineteen at the time – encountered Abu Jahl as he lay gasping on the battlefield, what did he do? Everything had changed by then. It was the Madinan period. The Muslims had established a sovereign state and were officially at war with the Quraysh. Abu Jahl, though wounded, was an unrepentant torturer and murderer. A monster. So did Ibn Masood forgive him? No, he stepped on his neck and killed him. That is the proper end for tyrants. I’m not suggesting you go to war,” the Imam added hastily. “Not at all. I’m saying, safety first. Forgiveness has a time and a place.”

Yahya was a little taken aback. This was not the line of reasoning he had expected from the Imam, who was known for his moderate, progressive views. “But I’m not talking about forgiving acts against other people. Only against myself. Isn’t it true that the Prophet never sought personal vengeance?”

“Yes. That was his role. He was a bringer of truth to the world, and therefore had to come with unlimited compassion, or he would have sabotaged his own mission. Furthermore, he had the protection of God upon him. Abu Jahl, who I mentioned earlier? Once, during the Meccan period, he vowed that the next time he saw Muhammad prostrating in prayer, he would crush his skull with a heavy stone, consequences be damned. So the next time he saw the Prophet praying before the Ka’bah, he tried to do exactly that. He picked up a boulder and approached him to kill him, then suddenly dropped the stone and fled, pale with terror. The Quraysh questioned him, and he said that when he approached Muhammad, a camel’s stallion got in his way. ‘By God’, he said, ‘I have never seen anything like its head, shoulders, and teeth on any stallion before, and it made as though it would eat me.’”

“And when Suraqah Bin Jusham came at him on a horse, intending to kill him with a spear, the horse kept stumbling and stopping and would not advance. The Prophet was protected because his mission was vital to the world. Are you similarly protected? If you forgive this man Chad, will it mean anything to him? Will it stay his hand from future attacks? Or will it encourage him?”

Yahya thanked the Imam and left feeling confused and conflicted. He understood what the Imam was saying, but he wasn’t sure he could change who he was at his core, or that he even wanted to. As he was leaving, another brother came up the walkway and greeted him and the Imam. There was something about the brother that immediately caught Yahya’s attention. He was of average height, maybe 5’10”, and lean, and wore a brown fedora tipped sideways on his head, like some old school detective. Even though the guy wore worn jeans, surplus army boots, and a shirt that looked like it came off the rack at Walmart, and even though he seemed weatherbeaten and literally hungry, he emanated personal power and charisma. Yahya could see that even without looking at his light.

A Mountain of Gold

Imam Saleh greeted the newcomer warmly and said, “Zaid, I’m glad you’re here. This is brother Yahya. He might need your services.”

Yahya shook the newcomer’s hand and tried to smile, though it hurt his face to do so.

“Oh? What do you do?”

“I’m a private detective.”

How cool. He’d never met a Muslim private detective. He broke out in a grin, but his bottom lip split and a trickle of blood ran into his beard. “Sorry,” he said, wiping his chin with the back of one hand. “I was going to say, that sounds exciting.”

“What happened?” Zaid gestured to his face and arm. “Car accident?”

Yahya shook his head. “No. But I have it in hand. It was good to meet you.” He started down the walkway. Then, curious as to the source of Zaid’s strength, he turned and quite deliberately looked at the man’s light. Relaxing the muscles around his eyes, letting his gaze go soft and unfocused, he looked past Zaid’s rough exterior. At the same time, he consciously dropped his own guard, opening his chest as he thought of it.

Mayon volcanoWhat he saw stunned him. Whereas the man he’d given his shoes to in jail had been a living mountain physically, this mountain was a spiritual mountain. That was in fact what Yahya saw: a mountain, shimmering before him. That was a new thing. He normally just saw colors. This mountain was not tall but was wide and covered in forest. Animals moved through the trees, but they were unfamiliar: a jaguar, something like a cow with a long nose, and some sort of thick groundhog with long legs. There were birds, and monkeys that hooted and roared. A long fissure ran vertically through the center of the mountain, and red light and smoke emanated from it, as if the mountain were filled with fire. Yahya looked deeper, to the very heart of the mountain, and saw ribbons of pure gold that ran all through the stone like veins. As Yahya watched, clouds gathered around the peak. Thunder pealed, and rain fell in dark curtains.

He also saw that the man was torn from his moorings, for the mountain was not rooted in the earth, but drifting through the sky like a cloud. No, that wasn’t quite it. It wasn’t that it had broken away from the earth: it had never belonged in the first place. Yet the man was not lost. He did not despair. It was almost as if he carried a beacon fire within him, and never had to wonder which way to turn. Seeing this prompted Yahya to think about the concept of home, and what it might mean to such a man.

He let the vision go, feeling a moment of dizziness as he did so. He stood stock still until the dizziness passed and the world resolved before him. Imam Saleh and Zaid stood regarding him quizzically. Yahya felt as if he’d been gone for hours, but it seemed no time had passed. It was always that way when he looked at the light. He asked a question before he had time to consider. “What do you say about home?”

Zaid cocked his eyebrows. “Pardon?”

“I can see that you’ve been uprooted. The place that should have been your home never was, the place that actually was your home should not have been, and your latest, truest home has expelled you. So what is home, really? How do you even define it?”

The man gaped at Yahya in apparent amazement. His mouth opened but nothing came out.

“It’s not magic,” Yahya said, realizing that he’d already said too much. He must not reveal his full talent. People rarely believed him. Sometimes they thought he was crazy. If they did believe him, they either feared him or they became over-attached, wanting him to be their personal life coach or spiritual guide, neither of which he desired to do. “I read facial expressions, body language.” That was true as far as it went. “Anyway… Maya Angelou said that home is the safe place where you can go as you are and not be questioned. So if that doesn’t exist, then what is home?”

“Uhh…” Zaid cleared his throat and paused, thinking. “Maybe home in this dunya is not meant to last. Maybe it’s a series of moments when you felt safe and loved, and maybe you hold on to those moments, each one like a thread or a patch, and make a suit out of them that you wear wherever you go.”

Fascinating. Yahya nodded slowly. “I’ll take your card after all.” Zaid handed him a card and he took it, limping as he left.

Think Outside the Bag

“So here’s my idea,” Chad said. He sat on the floor of his room with his back against the wall. Ames’ lanky frame was sprawled across the bed on his back, looking up at the ceiling, his long blond hair fanning out across the pillow. Bram sat at Chad’s little wooden desk. The desk and accompanying wooden chair were holdovers from when Chad was a kid and used to like to draw. Chad was worried that the little chair might collapse beneath the weight of Bram’s hulking, muscular body.

Each of them had a beer in hand. It was a bit cramped with the three of them in this small room, but it was private. His mom and Amelia knew not to enter his room without knocking.

“The raghead works for this new Uber thing, right?” He pronounced it ubber, rhyming with rubber.

“It’s not Ubber,” Bram corrected, still looking up at the ceiling. “It’s Uber, rhymes with goober.”

“Uber goober, Uber goober,” Ames parroted. He might be a karate master with all-American good looks, but he was not the brightest bulb in the box.

“Uber?” Chad frowned. “That’s not a word.”

“German,” Ames explained. “Means exceeding the norms of its kind of class. Super, basically.” He took a pull from his beer.

Chad was annoyed. “German? Why does everything have to be foreign? What’s wrong with American?” And how could Ames drink beer while lying on his back? Chad was jealous. “Anyway,” Chad went on, “my grandma used to have this country house about a half hour out of town. It’s abandoned now, nothing else around. Nobody goes there. So we set up there and call Uber to that address. We tell them to send the new guy, the raghead, because he’s our favorite driver, yakkity yak. Then-”

“Won’t work,” Bram interrupted. “Uber doesn’t work like that. You order it on the internet, through your smartphone-”

“Sh*t.” Chad didn’t have a smartphone. He had a basic phone, an LG Chocolate. He thought it was cool the way it slid up to open. “You have a smartphone, don’t you Ames?”

“Also,” Bram went on, “you get the closest driver, as determined by GPS. You can’t request a particular person.”

Chad gave a disgusted snort. “That’s shot then.”

“How about this?” Ames pointed his beer bottle upward as if it were a pen and he was writing on the ceiling. “We put Ex-Lax in his food to give him diarrhea, then when he goes to the hospital we pose as nurses and kidnap him. We roll him out of the hospital on a gurney and put him in an ambulance that we hijack. From there we drive him to your grandma’s house. We tie him up and kick him in the nuts for what he did to Amelia. We kick him in the nuts until his face turns blue and his eyes pop out.”

Chad and Bram exchanged a look. Chad rolled his eyes. He was about to tell Ames to shut his idiot mouth when Bram said, “That’s problematic. Hospitals require I.D. badges. And I suspect a stolen ambulance would be easy for the authorities to track. Built-in GPS, you know.”

“What about this then?” Ames gestured at the ceiling with the beer bottle, still brainstorming on his imaginary white board. “We invite him to a rave at a downtown warehouse. When he shows up we spike his drink with a roofie, then tie him up and kick him in the-”

“We don’t have a warehouse,” Chad broke in disgustedly. “And there’s no rave. And the guy’s a Muzzie. They only drink camel wine or some crap.”

“We break into a warehouse,” Ames countered. “Throw a rave, give him cranberry juice. Think outside the bag, guys!”

Chad was about to tell Ames to get his skinny blond ass off the bed and make tracks, which would have been a bad idea since they needed his karate skills, when Bram said, “The grandma’s house isn’t a bad idea. But we must be realistic in our approach. How about this? We follow him when he goes to do Uber. We wait until he’s driving alone on a dark street, and we bump into him from behind at a stop sign or light. He gets out to exchange insurance info, we club him with a baseball bat, toss him in the trunk and take him to your grandma’s house.”

“And commence nut-kicking!” Ames crowed.

“Indeed,” Bram agreed.

Chad considered. “Not bad,” he said at last. “Not bad at all. Gentlemen, we have a plan.”

Author’s Note: There will be a delay before the next chapter. I’m working on the final edit for the print version of Zaid Karim. That’s my priority at the moment. Also, with this story, I feel like I need to take time to get to know Yahya better. I’m not quite ready to proceed. – Wael

* * *

Next: Part 5 – To Be Nazi or Not To Be Nazi

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels, Pieces of a Dream and Zaid Karim Private Investigator, are available on Amazon.com.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Wael Abdelgawad's novels can be purchased at his author page at Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Wael-Abdelgawad/e/B071CYWVDM?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1579756718&sr=8-1Wael is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including IslamicAnswers.com and IslamicSunrays.com, and various financial websites. Heteaches martial arts, and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and ice cream. Learn more about him at WaelAbdelgawad.com.For a guide to all of Wael's online stories in chronological order, check out this handy Story Index.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    SZH

    February 6, 2020 at 6:17 AM

    Wow!!!
    I feel like this is going big. A cross-over, with Zaid.. And you yourself!! <3
    Wow again!!!
    It always have been worth reading every word of your stories.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      February 6, 2020 at 2:51 PM

      Thanks brother. Though this is pretty much the end of Zaid’s appearance here.

      • Avatar

        Bint A

        February 10, 2020 at 11:26 PM

        Aww no… I got so excited when Zaid made an appearance ..thought there would be a nice overlap if Zaid helped catch the bad guys. Like if Bram and Ames escape etc. Please consider it!

        And as Tony commented, I actually copy pasted that quote about home being a suit you wear wherever you go… beautiful imagery.

        PS – the chapter was much too short :(

        • Avatar

          Wael Abdelgawad

          February 11, 2020 at 11:52 PM

          Zaid cannot help out as he will be in Panama within a day or two, and won’t return for some time. But who knows, maybe his helper Jihad will step in, or his friend Saleem Haleem.

  2. Avatar

    Tony

    February 6, 2020 at 2:45 PM

    Awesome story. I need to catch up on parts 1 – 4. I just happened upon this while waiting for my doc appointment. I love the character development. I feel like I’m actually in the story. My favorite line: “Maybe home in this dunya is not meant to last. Maybe it’s a series of moments when you felt safe and loved, and maybe you hold on to those moments, each one like a thread or a patch, and make a suit out of them that you wear wherever you go.” Awesome story Wael! =)

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      February 6, 2020 at 2:53 PM

      Thanks Tony. I actually gave an Uber ride to a woman who was an orphan. We talked, and she told me this. Not the suit part, I made that up, but that home for her was a collection of moments and memories.

      • Avatar

        Tony

        February 6, 2020 at 11:40 PM

        I love the story line Wael. I have some catching up to do. I love a good story and brother you have a skill. =)

  3. Avatar

    SZH

    February 25, 2020 at 6:28 AM

    Another thing on the side. Please also incorporate “change log” in case of any update, correction, deletion of a sentence or a few in the story. The early readers should know if there are any changes. :-P

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#Culture

No, My Son | A Short Story

It was pure happenstance that Payedar Olan was sitting near the entrance of the masjid on the day the gunman entered and shot him. He had forgotten that here in America they changed the time twice a year…

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

It was pure happenstance that Payedar Olan was sitting near the entrance of the masjid on the day the gunman entered and shot him. He had forgotten that in America they changed the time twice a year, so he was an hour early for Friday congregational prayer. The little masjid at the top of a hill was almost empty, with only a few brothers praying, and one washing up in the ablutions room. So he sat with his back against the wall to relax and wait.

Such a strange thing, this time changing. The sun rose and set. How could men change it? But in America they believed they had power over all things.

Life here was bewildering. People zipped around on electric scooters, in Uber cars and in trains that rumbled beneath the ground. Skyscrapers blocked the sun. People wore strange costumes, and one could often not tell a woman from a man. The markets contained more food than anyone could need, much of it artificial, tasting too salty or too sweet. People smiled for no reason, while crazy people wandered the streets, shouting at nothing.

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This city and country had taken him in and given him shelter when his own homeland was being devoured by evil men; so he was grateful. Still, it was perplexing, and so far removed from his experience that sometimes he felt he was on a different planet.

The Kurdish Heart

A Kurdish village

Kurdish village

Payedar had been born in 1953 in Iraqi Kurdistan, in a mountain village called Gur-e-Sofia, reachable by traveling first on the Ruwandiz road from Erbil, then by a three hour climb up a mule track. His bav was a duck hunter, and his dê a midwife.

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In his village, whitewashed homes were built into steep hillsides in tiers, facing the sun. The mud of the roofs had to be rolled anew every September, before the winter rains, because in summer it would crack. Sheep and goats dotted the slopes. Most people grew barley or bearded wheat, and tobacco in summer, using oxen to plow the fields. Every family knew precisely how much water they could take for irrigation, and no one took more than their share, for fairness was ingrained in the Kurdish heart.

Walnut trees grew everywhere, and Payedar would shake them to bring the walnuts down, then crack them between two stones. Because of this he was never hungry, alhamdulillah.

He remembered his bav, his father, sitting at the village coffee shop, smoking rich Kurdish tobacco from a hookah pipe, and shouting exultantly as he won a round of backgammon. At home his dê cooked spiced kofta meatballs, bulgur pilaf and flatbread, with figs and sweetened black tea for dessert. Payedar, his parents and six siblings ate on the floor, sitting around a clean cloth. At night Bev led them in prayer, reciting the Quran in his powerful voice.

It was life, and he was happy, until he was eight years old and the Kurdish-Iraqi war began. His three older brothers and one sister went to fight and never returned. The village was bombed. Many were killed and many homes were destroyed. Even the small masjid was reduced to rubble. His bav fell into despondency, and one day went out to hunt ducks and blew his own head off.

Payedar, the eldest remaining child, became the breadwinner. Twice a month he loaded up a mule with white grapes, tobacco and walnuts and traveled over the mountain to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where he sold them at a good profit. It was hazardous work. More than once he was injured. Three times he was robbed.

These dangers were balanced by getting to see Erbil, a city of a million people. A million! Where ancient Assyrian and Roman monuments and citadels mixed with four-story buildings and a modern soccer stadium. Women went out with their forearms uncovered, people wore Western jeans and shirts, and music played from boomboxes sold in shops filled with electronic goods. At the same time, Erbil was a frequent target of Iraqi bombs, and it was not unusual to see bodies in the streets.

The Dying and the Dead

The war ended when he was seventeen, and began again when he was twenty one. This time he joined the Kurdish peshmerga and fought the Iraqi invaders, sending his salary home to his mother.

Female peshmerga fighters

Female peshmerga fighters

It was in the war that he met his wife, Letya. Her name, which meant tiny and womanly, matched her stature, if not her personality, for she too was a member of the peshmerga, and the first time he saw her she was in a soldier’s uniform with a Soviet rifle in her hands, her fierce black eyes promising death to the enemies of the Kurds, and her long black hair streaming in the hot southern wind.

He killed many men, and saw many die. Back home in Sofia-e-Gul one of his two younger sisters got married and moved away, while the other, out one day foraging for food, was kidnapped by Iraqi soldiers, raped and killed. Shortly afterward his mother died of loneliness and heartbreak. He returned home to bury her, his tears falling into the rich mountain soil atop her grave. Sofia-e-Gul was now populated only by old people waiting to die, and by the dead in the cemetery. The fields lay untended, many homes half-destroyed, the animals lost. He prayed, begging Allah’s forgiveness for leaving his mother alone. He did not ask for Allah’s mercy on his mother, for it was unnecessary. She was a saint, and if anyone in the world deserved Paradise it was her.

He left Sofia-e-Gul and never returned.

Payedar and Letya were married as the war raged, and when the Kurdish militias lost and the Kurdish region was overrun by Iraqi troops, they fled to the Kurdish border region in Iran. There Payedar worked as an assistant to a stone mason. He and Letya raised two boys and a girl.

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

These were the things Payedar was thinking about as he sat with his back against the wall in the little masjid. Lately it seemed his mind dwelled more in the past than the present. Sometimes he found himself standing on a street corner in this American city, thinking about the feel of his father’s bristly mustache when he kissed Payedar goodnight, or the smell of his wife’s hair, redolent with the day’s cooking – or, if she had bathed, with the scent of fermented rice-water shampoo. Then someone would interrupt his reverie, some Spanish girl with green hair, or a goateed man with earrings and a baby in a belly sling, and ask if he was alright. And he would smile and thank them.

He had no complaints about the way his life had turned out. He’d lost so much, yes. But he’d been a fighter all his life, and what more could any man do? Everything was in Allah’s hands. Whatever had happened was always going to happen, and whatever had passed him by was always going to pass him by. There was nothing he could say in the end but alhamdulillah. And if he was fortunate, he would meet his lost ones in Jannah, and all would be well.

Boots On

The gunman entered with his boots on. That was the first thing Payedar noticed, glancing to his left and seeing the military boots on the plush carpet of the prayer room. His eyes shot up to take the man in: tall, white, with a powerful frame. Green eyes and a scattering of freckles across his cheeks. Brown hair in a buzz cut. Dressed in green army fatigues, and carrying a semi-automatic rifle. The gun was pointed toward the mehrab as the man’s head swiveled, taking in the interior of the masjid.

The man seemed confused. Maybe he too had been fooled by the time change, and was expecting to find a full congregation. Maybe his eyes were adjusting to the gloom, for the interior lights had not yet been turned on, and the masjid was all cool shadows and lazily spinning ceiling fans.

The gunman’s hesitation gave Payedar the time he needed. He leaped up and embraced the man tightly, throwing his arms over the man’s arms, pinning them to his sides so that the rifle pointed at the ground. “No, my son,” Payedar said intensely, whispering in the man’s ear as if telling secrets to a confidante. “No.”

“Get off me you goddamn terrorist!” the man bellowed. He struggled, nearly falling. He was strong, but Payedar also was strong, for though he was sixty seven years old he had been a stone mason for decades, and the work had given him a broad back and muscular arms.

“No, my son,” he said again, his voice rising. “I will not allow it. I cannot, I cannot.” He heard other men shouting in panic and confusion, but he did not turn to look.

“I’ll kill you!” the man drove forward, but Payedar held on. The gun went off. The sound ricocheted off the walls like the roar of a cannon. Someone screamed. Payedar’s foot exploded with pain. Starbursts appeared before his eyes. Yet he kept his arms clasped. “No, my son,” he said again, desperately. ‘No, my son.” He was pleading, but not for his life. He and death were old friends or old enemies – he could not tell anymore. Sometimes you hated a man but admired him. So it was with Payedar and death. No, he was pleading for this man to understand, to stop before it was too late.

“GET OFF ME YOU CRAZY OLD MAN!”

Again the gun fired, and this time it was as if a sword had been driven into Payedar’s thigh. He closed his eyes and groaned in agony, but held on. Again he pleaded, his voice filled with something that might have been anger but might also have been love, and this time it was a shout, driven by pain and desperation. “No my son!”

The gunman stopped struggling. Payedar felt the man’s body go limp within the circle of his embrace. He opened his eyes to meet a gaze filled with hatred and rage, but also confusion and shame. Now that the man had stopped struggling, Payedar seemed to have lost his own ability to fight, as if he had drawn his energy from the other’s seething will. His arms grew slack and the world turned monochrome, as if he were seeing everything on the old television he and Letya had purchased when the children were still small and still alive. Pain filled his mind, and he could not stand.

Arms seized Payedar and the gunman. Both fell. Men were atop them, shouting in Arabic and English. Payedar’s mouth fell open as his eyelids came down like steel doors.

His Young Prince

Hospital IV bag

Two surgeries and a week in the hospital, and he was on his way to recovery. People said he was a hero. Visitors from the masjid were allowed in two at a time, but Payedar found their visits tiring. Reporters wanted to see him, but his son Ekrem shielded him. Payedar had no desire for fame. Police came as well. He told the story in halting English, and picked the gunman out of a selection of photos on a card.

Sometimes he did not know where he was. A hospital, but he had been in many clinics and field hospitals. He had been shot twice before, bombed, struck with grenade shrapnel, and tortured in an Iranian jail, where he was accused of being a Kurdish separatist.

When he became confused he remained silent and waited stiffly. Eventually Ekrem would appear, sometimes with his beautiful wife Amirah, and Payedar would relax, for even if he did not know where he was he knew that Ekrem was his young prince, his joy and legacy, and that if Ekrem was there then everything was fine.

Later, he awoke on the sofa in Ekrem’s living room. Usually he slept in a tiny upstairs room, but he had a titanium rod in his thigh and a cast from knee to toe. He let out a groan. His leg and foot ached as if a lion were gnawing on the bones. He’d experienced worse pain in life. But he was old now.

Amirah stood over him, speaking. “Apê. Tu dixwazî hin çay bi şekirê dixwazî? Dem dema dermanê we ye.” Uncle, would you like tea with sugar? It’s time for your medication.

Payedar smiled at this princess, this beautiful African-American Muslim woman who had given him two grandsons and had even learned Kurdish!

Trying not to show how much his leg hurt, he rubbed his eyes and yawned. “How about some mast-aw?” he replied in Kurdish. It was an old joke. Mast-aw was a Kurdish favorite: heated goat’s milk mixed with sour goat’s milk to curdle it, then with cold water. Of course it could not be found in America.

“Honey,” Amirah called in English. “He wants mast-aw.”

“Coming up.” Ekrem emerged from the kitchen carrying a tray with a single glass of milk perched in the center, and four pills beside it. The boys trooped at his heels, grinning. Payedar looked at his son, with his curly hair and long, proud nose. He was sturdy, for he too was a stonemason, having learned at Payedar’s side.

Payedar smiled at this prank. The pasteurized, homogenized milk sold in America was a far cry from mast-aw. But he took the glass without complaint, and downed a few pills. His eyes widened. The drink was thick and tangy, rich with the flavors of his homeland. It was mast-aw! He had not tasted it in many years, and for a moment the flavor took him back, so that he was a child, sitting on the floor with his parents and siblings after a long day of trooping over the mountains with his bav. The children enjoyed mast-aw and boiled wheat with sugar, and when his older brother tried to talk about the war Bav shushed him. His sister told a joke about a cat that tried to ride a bicycle, and Payedar laughed.

Remembering this, he laughed again, and witnessing this, Ekrem and his family laughed as well, and Payedar returned to the present. “This is miracle,” Payedar said in English, and his family grinned and told him how they had sourced all the ingredients.

Moments like this were a barakah, and Payedar was filled with gratitude to Allah. If only… he faltered, his hand shaking, nearly dropping the glass, so that Amirah took it quickly. A tear ran down his cheek. Ekrem was beside him, touching his shoulder. “What is it, Bav? Is something wrong?”

Payedar shook his head. “You are the spirit of my heart, Ekrem. All of you.” He reached a hand to his grandsons and they piled onto the sofa. “I wish…” He could not continue. He wished Letya, his wife, could have lived long enough to see this new land. And Sara, his daughter, gassed by Saddam Hussein along with her husband and children. And Baz, his firstborn, a lifelong soldier.

Ekrem rubbed his shoulder. “I know, Bav.”

“Can I try the mast-aw?” This was Ibrahim, his youngest grandson, a wide-faced boy with curly black hair and dark eyes, only four years old. His mother gave him the glass and he took a sip, then coughed and grimaced. “Eww!”

Payedar chuckled. “You are American boy. You better stick to apple juice.”

* * *

An assistant district attorney came to see him. A rail-thin blonde woman with spectacles like tea glasses. The gunman, whose name was Amundsen, had so far refused to speak to the police. He said he would only speak to, “the old man.”

“Meaning you, Mr. Olan,” the ADA said. “You’d be doing us a favor.”

Good Crazy or Bad Crazy

They met in a room in the county jail building. It was painted steel gray, with a thick window beyond which a tall black guard watched. There were no cameras or listening devices, as far as Payedar could tell.

The gunman, Amundsen, sat across from Payedar at a metal table that was bolted to the ground. The man wore orange jail coveralls with “JAIL INMATE” printed on the chest and back. He was handcuffed, his ankles shackled, another chain connecting hands and feet to a belly chain, and the whole mess chained to a steel eye loop welded to the table. The man was unmarked. No bruises or burns. Back home he would have been tortured until he confessed. Here they had to appeal to him, negotiate, reason. America was crazy. But good crazy or bad crazy? Both, Payedar supposed.

Payedar wore the traditional clothing of his homeland: a dark vest over a white robe, a black turban, and boots. He did not always dress thus. Sometimes he wore typical Western clothing. He was not sure why he had chosen to dress this way today.

The gunman eyed him. There was some hostility in that look, but not as much as Payedar had expected. The man seemed almost curious. “You speak English?”

“Yes. I learn.”

The chains rattled as Amundsen gestured to Payedar’s leg. “You gonna be alright?”

Payedar nodded.

“You really messed me up.”

“You mess up yourself.”

“Yeah.”

Neither of them said anything for a while. Payedar studied the gunman. The man’s eyes were intelligent, his jaw set tightly. A forearm tattoo peeked out beneath the sleeve of his coverall. His torso was as wide as a barrel. Payedar was amazed he’d been able to hold the man. In fact, he could not see how it was possible.

“Why did you say that?” the gunman wanted to know.

“Say what?” Though he knew.

“You know. You called me your son. You kept saying that. Even when I shot you. What the hell, man? I’m not your son.”

Payedar flushed with embarrassment. But he had agreed to talk to the man, so he answered. “Sometimes I get confused. At that time I thought you was my son, Baz.”

Amundsen stared, then shook his head and laughed. “Unbelievable. I got stopped by a senile old kook. Do I look like your son?”

“Little bit. Big and strong. He was soldier, fighting the Iraqis. Seven years ago, when ISIS start to invade our land, Baz come to me, say he going to fight them. I did not want. I lose so many people already. So I hug him, I tell him, no, my son. Do not go.”

Amundsen frowned. “Your son was going to fight against ISIS? I thought you Muslims supported ISIS.”

“You are fool!” Payedar snapped. “Never say this. Do you understand what ISIS did to my people? They attack the Yazidi villages because the Yazidis are Christian, not Muslim. So ISIS kill the men, take the women and rape them. My son cannot accept this, so he go to fight, to protect them.”

“So…” Amundsen’s mouth hung open as he took in what Payedar was telling him. “Your son fought to protect Christians?”

“Muslim, Christians, one people. They are Kurds.”

“What happened to him?”

“What you think?” Not wanting to speak it out loud.

The room fell silent. Payedar looked around absently, taking in the clean floor and walls, the even light from the fluorescents embedded in the ceiling. He looked at the jail guard on the other side of the window, who stood calmly, watching them both. Payedar’s mind wandered, traveling through time, crossing borders and eras in an instant, feeling the touch of his wife’s lips on his cheek, whispering her love. She had loved him like a fighter, fiercely, unreservedly. Then his mind swept forward like a flash flood in a mountain ravine, and he was once again in the present, in this tiny room in a foreign city far from home. His gaze returned to Amundsen, who in turn studied him silently. No one spoke.

The end

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels, Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, and Zaid Karim Private Investigator, are available on Amazon.com.

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The Conundrum | A Short Story

disaster

It was all over the news. The earthquake had wiped out whole towns. The entire country was in shock. Upcoming festivals were cancelled and citywide donation drives were springing up everywhere. Charity organizations were activating their networks and sending teams of volunteers to help in the rescue efforts.

“This is God’s punishment for all the evil things we do,” her uncle said mournfully.

She was confused. If they were doing bad things, then shouldn’t they be dead too? She looked at her father to see what he would say. He shook his head and countered, “That’s not true, you know. This is a trial from God. And it is a reminder for us to be conscious of Him and be aware of His power. So that we may worship Him more.”

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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

“So, you’re saying that bad things don’t happen because of our wicked deeds?” her uncle challenged his brother.

“No, they can, but we have no way of knowing for certain. After all, God also promises us that He will test us to see which of us is better in action. As a reminder of His presence and power.”

“So, you prefer to turn a blind eye to God’s punishment just because you’re not sure?” He asked incredulously.

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“Of course not. All I am saying is that I don’t know – and neither do you! So, instead of delving into God’s matters and condemning everyone, especially the victims, we should focus on rectifying our own selves! This is a time for astaghfar, for asking forgiveness,” her father shook his head again.

“Well, that’s precisely my point! If we see this as punishment, it will strike fear in our hearts and make us change our ways, so we can avert another disaster!”

“Yes, but the problem with that logic is that, in the process, you have denounced whole swaths of people who may be completely innocent. Only God knows,” he emphasized.

She was so proud of her father. His explanation made so much more sense, but she couldn’t resist asking, “Baba, why would God let such a terrible thing happen?”

“Because He is angry,” her uncle immediately responded. Apparently, he hadn’t changed his mind.

“My dear,” her father began, ignoring his brother.

“God’s plan and vision is much greater than what we see. Life and death are a reality of life. Every person must die. It is really sad what has happened to all of these people, but we must also remember that God gives us the reassurance that if believers die in such a state, they are martyrs. What a high station! Which is why it baffles me every time I hear that somehow this was a punishment,” he pointedly remarked, looking at his brother who stayed quiet.

He sighed and continued, “For those who are gone, we must pray for their souls. And take care of the survivors. As for us, we need to draw ourselves nearer to God and follow His guidance, so that when our turn comes, we are ready.”

He pulled her close to him and she felt safe.

-end-

“The author is grateful to Prof. Ovamir Anjum for his kind assistance during the writing of this story.”

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Launch of Zaid Karim Private Investigator!

Where did the idea for Zaid Karim come from, how much is based on real events, and what is next for Zaid?

Zaid Karim, Private Investigator

I’m so excited to share the release of Zaid Karim Private Investigator.

This novel has been three years in the making: from when I first began serializing it on MuslimMatters.org in early 2017, to its completion on MM nine months later, to the first wave of revisions based on comments by my editor Amy Estrada and the MM readers, to the final revision after further input from another editor, Rafael Lopez.

If you’ve already read it online, I encourage you to buy the new ebook or paperback. There’s nothing like holding a physical copy in your hands. And there have been some changes.

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One thing I’ve consistently noticed in the input I’ve received from MM readers is that a lot of you are doctors! My characters always seem to get injured, and apparently I often make mistakes when describing their treatment or symptoms. And the MM readers call me on it. I’m grateful for that, and I have always made changes to the story in response.

The final version is, in my opinion, tight as a drum. I added a few minor transitional scenes, and eliminated a lot of irrelevant musings by Zaid that tended to take the reader away from the action. Zaid has an irreverent and odd sense of humor, and that flavors the book, but Rafael Lopez pointed out that the inclusion of this humor during climactic moments sabotages the tension of the story, and he was right. So I ended up deleting some of those.

A key change from the MM version occurs during the climactic battle on Ouagadiri Island. I don’t want to give it away, but I’ll say that it was an important change, and had to do with how I see Zaid, and how he sees himself. Let me know if you read the book and catch the change, and what you think.

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Here are some answers to questions I often receive about Zaid Karim Private Investigator, and about my writing process in general:

Q: How much of this book is fact and how much is fiction?

A: Telling the true story of my life would be problematic. So I fictionalize. Every novel I’ve written has some autobiographical elements, with fictional events and invented characters mixed it. Lately, in my short stories, I’ve been trying to branch out more and create characters that are wholly fictional. Well, let me amend that. I create characters whose lives are based on real-world social dynamics and believable situations. I want emotional honesty above all. The particular circumstances of their lives, however, are invented.

Q: How did you get the idea for this book?

East Los Angeles

East Los Angeles

A: When I was twenty one years old I helped a friend track down and find his young missing daughter. But it was quite different from the narrative in Zaid Karim. For example, we started our search in East Los Angeles, first talking to people, then breaking down doors. Along the way we crashed our car in Mazatlan, had a nearly disastrous run-in with the Mexican police in Guadalajara, got in an argument with South African Tablighi Jamaat members at the Egyptian Club in Mexico City, were invited to a bizarre meeting of wealthy Mexican sufis, and ended up in the mountains of southern Mexico. That incident was the seed for Zaid Karim.

As for the setting in the latter half of the book, I lived in Panama for four years, and in fact I lived in El Valle de Anton, the idyllic little town where Yusuf Cruz lives. Though my house was not a mansion!

Q: Zaid’s kind of violent, isn’t he?

A: Yes, at times. He is young, and he’s been through a lot. He wants to change, but doesn’t know how. He needs some catalyst to transform his thinking. I suspect that novel that Alejandra gave him, On My Way to Paradise, will play a role. As he continues to grow, I believe we’ll see him evolve.

Q: So you plan to write more Zaid Karim mysteries?

A: Depends on how well this one sells. If you want to see more, buy ten copies: one for you, and nine for your friends, ha ha.

Q: What about a crossover between Zaid Karim and Hassan Amir?

A: It could happen. Zaid is Jamilah’s cousin, after all, and their stories happen around the same time.

Q: Who would win in a fight between Zaid and Hassan?

A: Lol, why would they be fighting? But here you go:

  • Gunfight: Hassan.
  • Sticks: Zaid.
  • Knives: Even match.
  • Empty hands: Hassan, by a mile.

Q: What’s next for Zaid Karim?

A: His body will need healing time and therapy, but knowing Zaid he will probably plow right ahead. He needs to investigate this so-called convert who is trying to radicalize the youth. We will learn more about the event that enabled him to be pardoned and released from prison early. We just might learn more about the strange comment made by Farah Anwar regarding Zaid’s mother, that she should have “aborted you and kept the lame one.” Zaid will almost certainly return to Panama, to find Angie and try to help her, especially now that he is a foster father to he daughter. Lastly, an important figure from Zaid’s past, a person of power and influence, might call upon him to investigate a crime he is uniquely qualified to handle. Stay tuned.

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels, Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, and Zaid Karim Private Investigator, are available on Amazon.com.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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